A few years ago, Tyrone Collins took exception to a certain comedy poll published in a certain Portland newspaper. His grievances were twofold: First, there were no female comedians featured in the issue. And second, neither was he.
"It looked like a sausage fest," he says now, puffing on a blunt during a Zoom call. "It actually looked like a good ol' boys club, if you want to keep it real."
In response, Collins and his wife arranged their own standup showcase, with an all-women lineup and Collins serving as host. They called it "Fuck Willamette Week."
Hey, no hard feelings. Besides, if we were paying attention, we probably would've known Collins, 46, might take matters into his own hands. He has a history of it. When he got sick of waiting for hours just to get three minutes of stage time at other open mics in town, he went out and started one at a bar on Southeast 82nd Avenue. After getting shut out of the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, he co-founded the NW Black Comedy Festival, again with his wife, Courtenay. If a club like Helium won't book him, he'll simply go to Harvey's, or up to Tacoma. He's even put together multistate tours, taking him from California to Vegas to Omaha, all without the local press taking much notice.
In his 10 years of doing comedy, Collins, who performs under his teenage nickname Hyjinx, admits he's often felt overlooked—but that doesn't mean he's been easy to ignore.
An acolyte of Eddie Murphy and his mother's Rudy Ray Moore records, he approaches his shows with the energy and volume of a dude holding court at the bar, telling stories that force everyone in the vicinity to lean in and listen. Some of those stories are drawn from his life as a married father of four. Others are plainly outlandish: See his bit about "the Ghetto Sutra," where he describes sex acts named after famous Black leaders.
Even now, after a year without standup, Collins' voice still has the rasp of someone doing three sets a night, and that's because he's stayed on his grind, recording podcasts and YouTube videos. He knows better than most that if you wait for an opportunity to present itself, you may end up waiting forever—it's best to go out and create your own.
Originally from Asheville, N.C., Collins never considered doing comedy for a living until landing in Portland in the late '90s, and even then, it took another decade to happen. A promoter saw a sketch he starred in for his sister-in-law's college project and, although Collins had no standup experience, invited him to open a gig aboard a boat in Seattle. Tall and lanky, he made jokes about trying out for the Blazers and getting rejected because his rap sheet wasn't long enough—material that killed in SuperSonics country but got blank stares back in Portland.
"I actually stopped doing comedy for, like, eight months," he says, "because I was under the assumption that when you bomb once, that's your career."
Falling in with experienced comics like Nathan Brannon, Collins learned that failing was part of the job, and he began to see even the bad shows as a chance to improve. Over time, he left the basketball fantasies behind and began to take more from his real life. His favorite bit is about growing up poor, and how it made him resent the holidays. It ends with him singing a remixed version of "The 12 Days of Christmas:" "Twelve gauge a-shootin'/11 pimps a-panderin'/10 ladies lap-dancin'/9 bills a-waitin'…"
Obviously, if you're reading about him here, those years of pushing are beginning to pay off. Not that getting voted into these pages is at all his end goal. But it's a sign, perhaps, that the city is finally paying attention, present company included.
"Everything happens for a reason and in due time," he says, "and maybe this was just my time."